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Jun 12, 2011 05:22 AM

Need Advice on Chinese Ingredients for Hot & Sour Cellophane Noodles Recipe

I want to make this dish and need advice on brands or other tips for selecting the best-suited or best quality of these various ingredients (including country of origin, if relevant):

1. cellophane noodles
2. Dark soy sauce
3. Cooking wine

4. Chopped Chinese preserved vegetables
 (Zha cai)
Chinese 榨菜
Hanyu Pinyin zhà cài (plus any pronunciation tips, using anglo words?).

5. "Hot oil"
6. light soy sauce

7. Dark vinegar

Any other suggestions you might have are most welcome, too. Thanks!

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  1. Thank you Alkapal for posting this delicious looking recipe!!! I printed out the recipe and am awaiting some responses.

    7 Replies
    1. re: JEN10

      how did you print it without all the extraneous stuff? i was editing in a word processing app, and it is a drag!

      1. re: alkapal

        I copied and pasted, I like the pictures so I left them, I am a visual kind of person. I will check and see if I can delete them on word and let you know.

        1. re: JEN10

          but with a copy and paste, i was seeing 4 pages in print preview. even with editing the format for line spacing i couldn't get it down. can you do a screen shot? thanks

          1. re: alkapal

            Got it down to 3 pages with pics. Pasted below but not showing the pics. Want me to e mail it to you?

            I missed these noodles so much when I just moved to the States until I figured out how to make this comfort food at home. There are various ways to make these noodles. The recipe I am sharing here tops a brown meat sauce gravy to give a deeper flavor. You can substitute the pork with other kinds of meat or skip it completely.
            Ingredients (for 2 servings)
            1 batch cellophane noodles, about 6 oz (soak in water until soft)
            4 oz Ground pork
            2 head Chinese bok choi (can use other vegetables)
            Gravy Condiments
            1 tbsp Dark soy sauce

            1 tbsp Cooking wine
            2 tbsp Chopped Chinese preserved vegetables
            1 tbsp Minced garlic
            1 tsp Minced ginger
            1 tbsp Corn starch dissolved in 2 tbsp of water
            ½ cup Chicken stock (hot and ready to serve)
            Noodle Sauce Condiments (2 serving)
            2 tbsp Hot oil (more if you like it spicy)
            1 tsp Sichuan peppercorn powder
            4 tbsp light soy sauce
            2 tbsp Dark vinegar
            2 tbsp Chopped scallion and cilantro
            2 tsp Minced garlic
            ½ cup Chicken stock
            1 tsp Roasted peanuts (optional)
            1. In a skillet, add 2 tbsp of oil and cook the ground pork, preserved vegetables, ginger, and garlic over low heat. About 2 minutes
            2. Add the rest of the condiments except chicken stock and corn starch to the meat. Cook for another 3 minutes until the meat is nice and brown
            3. Add the chicken stock. Once boiled, simmer it in low heat for 5 minutes. Add corn starch to thicken the gravy.

            4. You can make the gravy in advance. I use this gravy for some of my other dishes so I normally make extra and store it in the fridge for up to 4 days.
            5. Cook the bok choi in boiling water. Drain and place it on the bottom of a noodle bowl. Cook the noodles until done (about 5 minutes) and place them on top of the vegetables.
            6. Combine the noodle sauce condiments and pour it on top of the noodles. Top it with 2 tbsp of gravy and garnish with scallion, cilantro, and roasted peanuts.

            1. re: JEN10

              bless you for doing this, JEN. i'm now in kitchen with my mac airbook making this, and realizing that there is no salt! i think i'm going to add some fish sauce. this is a work in progress. did i miss something?

              edit: still boiling down liquid… still have not added in cornstarch….

              1. re: alkapal

                The soy sauce etc include salt.

                1. re: paulj

                  i think i had forgotten to add the soy at that point….i think i believed it would be way too much, and was considering how to tweak the soy ingredient.

    2. There will be lots of different opinions on this, but fwiw, here's my take%3

      1) cellophane noodles, any decent chinese/asia grocery will offer lots of different options of these, since most of the producers are small, there's no real "national standard" so try to match the texture as shown in the picture of the raw ingredients on the link you attached, if there are several that look similar to what you want, buy the most expensive ones, they should still be pretty cheap.

      2) Dark & Light Soy, I look for brands/versions that do not contain perservatives (esp. sodium benzoate). Right now I'm using Kimlan I Jen Soy for my light soy, and Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy for my dark. These need to be refrigerated after opening. Also, you;ll find that even within a single manufacturer's line of soy sauces some, usually the less expensive varieties, will have preservatives, while the more expensive varieties will be naturally brewed and have no added preservatives. You really have to read the labels closely.

      3) Dark Vinegar, there are lots of regional varieties of this in China, but the most commonly used type is Jinjiang/Chinkiang vinegar from Jiangsu. I'm using Hengshun brand at the moment and I like it. Others on the board have reported liking Golden Plum brand. I also often use LaoChen vinegar from Shanxi, which is fairly similar to a malt vinegar in flavor, and doesn't have the sweetness common to Chinkiang. If you want to own two Chinese vinegars, this would be a good second option, and is closer in flavor profile to the vinegars of Northern&Western China.

      4) Zha Cai, I've had good luck with the small (70 grm) foil packs from Chongqing Fuling Zhacai Group. The pronounciation of "zha" is similar to the Boston pronounciation of "jar" (i.e. more or less drop the "r' at the end of jar and you've got it), "cai", sounds like the "tz" of ritz followed by the i of eye, so sort of "tzeye".

      5) hot oil. really easy to make your own using your preferred veg oil + chili flakes, this usually tastes better than the prepackaged varieties.

      6) Cooking wine, look for one (probably a Shaoxing) that doesn't have added salt. This will probably require going to a grocery can legally sell wine or to a liquor store in C-town, depending on licensing laws in your area.

      OK, that was way too long winded, but hope it helps.

      3 Replies
      1. re: qianning

        I am going to print this out and take it with me to the store, THANK YOU!

        1. re: qianning

          i was thinking the same thing…i'm going to print this as a shopping guide. thanks Le Q!

          1. re: alkapal

            hope it helpes/ed, and its just one opinion there are plenty of other options...

        2. Cellophane noodles have many different names including glass noodles, bean thread noodles, and green bean thread noodles. The ones I buy in Chinatown, “Pagoda” Brand Lungkow, are called “vermicelli” with “green bean thread” beneath that in parentheses. They come in 1.76-ounce packages, 6 (or is it 8?) to a bag.

          I like Pear River Bridge brand Superior Dark Soy Sauce. Usually easy to find in any Chinese Market. I also like their Superior Light Soy Sauce.

          You’ll find many different brands of Shaoxing Cooking Wine in Chinese groceries. These are usually labeled “not to be used or sold as beverage,” contain quite a bit of sodium, and are sold to be used as cooking wine in Chinese recipes. I use Pagoda brand. Many people say that because of the sodium, this cooking wine should be avoided and you should buy Shaoxing wine, without the sodium and sold for drinking, at a Chinese liquor store. But I find the Pagoda brand cooking wine perfectly acceptable, and it’s even recommended by Grace Young in her book “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.”

          Zha Cai is preserved mustard tuber. It’s usually sold in cans and is labeled “Sichuan preserved vegetable.” Other types of preserved vegetables can be substituted for it. I like something called “Tianjin preserved vegetable,” which is made of cabbage and is sold in earthenware jars.

          Roland brand makes a decent chili oil, but there are lots of different brands available. Look for something that is reddish orange in color. I usually make my own by pouring hot peanut oil over coarsely ground chiles.

          For dark vinegar look for Chinkiang Vinegar. I like Gold Plum brand.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JoanN

            another brilliant assist! thanks so very much joan N!

          2. My usual cellophane noodle dish is 'ants climb a tree', were the 'sauce' contains ground or minced pork (the ants).

            While I have most of the ingredients mentioned (including the Tianjin crock) I don't worry too much about brands. For this sort of thing I work as much from taste as a recipe. While I have a bottle of Pearl River light soy sauce, I also have LKK double deluxe. Also an LKK dark, though I don't really like the flavor, maybe because it has too much of the caramel notes, which I'm not used to in a soy sauce. But then it is used more for color and vague sweetness than saltiness.

            Years ago I could only find one brand of the canned preserved vegetables (the tuber). I have a jar of it in the fridge, from a can I opened months ago, so I don't recall the brand (blue can?). It's fairly hot and salty so I don't use a lot. Still it adds a nice crunch to dishes like this. While your link show the tuber, some references to preserved vegetables mean a pickled mustard green, which tends to be sold in small packets. Tianjin preserved vegetable in the crock is more like a dry garlicky 'sauerkraut' (not hot).

            Come to think of it, the last Good Eats episode that I saw, on Asian noodles, included an Ants climbing a tree recipe (he doesn't give the name until he is eating it).

            2 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              i'm wondering if i can sub -- just for necessity's sake today -- some dried sauerkraut and garlic, chopped up?! it'd be a neat texture anyway! LOL.

              i might even serve the noodles and gravy over my "summer " cucumber -vidalia salad instead of the bok choy ('cause i have lots of it made up in the fridge.).

              i'll report back with any concoction i do today. ;-)).

              1. re: alkapal

                The sauerkraut would not necessarily mimic the zhai tsai, but would be interesting nonetheless.

            2. The usual suspects here have made excellent recommendations. Here are my thoughts:
              Cellophane noodles - whatever brand I stumble over.
              Dark soy - Pearl River (regular aka light soy - Kimlan, ALWAYS - their regular one is as good as their special, to our taste, and the reduced sodium one is perfectly acceptable).
              Cooking wine - I use Scotch whisky as recommended by Nina Simonds (or Irish depending on what we have on hand)
              Zhai cai - you can get the canned stuff from Sichuan still, I think (usually labeled preserved vegetable" in German - ? - in oldfashioned lettering on a red can) but the little sachets that have become available are more handy and work perfectly (I posted a pic of them on one of the Grace Young threads). It's also sold in bulk in some markets - look for a gnarly-looking kohlrabi-sized shriveled brownish thing in a spicy paste.
              Hot oil - Roland (I often omit this and up the other chili content, there is almost always plenty oil in these dishes without adding more).
              Dark vinegar - agree on Gold Plum (there's a knockoff brand with a similar label, do not buy). Gold Plum puts out an aged one in a fancier bottle that is nice but probably not worth the additional $5 unless you're eating it as a condiment. There was a brilliant one we got in Taipei but the black vinegars I've bought here from Taiwan are flavored, quite like Worcestershire. Not what you want.
              I'm going to look for the Hengshun (characters? from Zhenjiang? I see Hengshun and think maybe Hengshan, oh boy, Hunan) and Lao Chen brands, a western China one would be fun to have.
              I love black vinegar. qianning's observation that one tastes like malt vinegar is interesting inasmuch as I told an English friend that malt could be used in a pinch. They're grain vinegars too (primarily rice and sorghum).

              Note re seasme oil - I have been very happy with Evergreen brand from Taiwan, because it smells and tastes exactly like what we had there (Proust, anyone) but I looked at the bottle last night and it's indeed a blend of sesame and rice oils. It may not be as appealing (because not as highly-flavored) to people who aren't suffering from I wanna go back there to live again.

              11 Replies
              1. re: buttertart

                I found the Lao Chen Cu - here's a pic of the label (the English label alongside it doesn't say "Lao Chen". Thanks, qianning - I had a bottle of this a while back, liked it, but forgot about it. it's made from sorghum, barley, and "pea".

                1. re: buttertart

                  My father loves this brand. I swear he would use for just everything edible if he's in the mood. I also keep a bottle of this at home all the time along with a bottle of Zhengjiang vinegar.

                  1. re: YiReservation

                    That's the staple at ours too, the Gold Plum. Husband is a vinegar nut too.

                  2. re: buttertart

                    That's it! The picture BT posted is a lable from Shanxi style vinegar. Just a small clarification, "Lao Chen Cu" (Lao Chen Vinegar) is a type/style of vinegar from Shanxi, not a brand...there are lots of brands. And as BT points out it is a sorghum +barley + pea & sometime a little wheat, based vinegar, whereas Chinkiang vinegar from Jiangsu is usually a sticky rice based.

                    I can't tell is the picture posted by Yi Reservation Golden Plum Brand Chinkiang?

                    "恒顺" is the Chinese for the Hengshun Brand Chinkiang that I'm using these days. It is nice in that it has very smooth flavor, not rough like some I've tried, but I noticed in looking at the label yesterday that it does have a little added sugar. Is this typical of Chinkinag vinegar? Or is it a cheat?

                    1. re: qianning

                      Yes it's the Gold Plum.

                      I didn't look at the ingredients in Chinese on the Lao/Old Chen yet - I'd like to know what kind of "pea", just out of curiosity.

                      If anyone wants the Old Chen in NYC, Kam Man on Canal has it, the back end (facing the back of the store) on the left side of the second aisle, down on the lowest shelf.

                      Hengshun -not "shan" as I wondered, "shun" as romanized...there is often some sugar in these - where did you come across this one? Not available at Kam Man at least.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        pretty sure i got it at kam man Quincy, but i've noticed that kam man quincy often has stuff that doesn't seem to be in the new york stores (based on things i see on the boards).

                        1. re: qianning

                          I'll keep an eye out for it, the stores in Flushing have a better range of products than KM.

                          1. re: buttertart

                            We went to Flushing last fall for a quickie c/o Jet Blue vacation....we really wanted to bring a couple of the grocery stores (not to mention restaurants) home with us, but even at Jet Blue prices that wasn't quite do-able.

                            1. re: qianning

                              We seriously considered moving there but it's too far away from our work. :(

                  3. re: buttertart

                    re: sesame oil

                    Interesting that Evergreen is a blend. I haven't seen it around here, so haven't tried it yet. Lately I've been using Maruhon, a Japanese pure sesame oil, and liking it VERY well, much more so than the Kadakoya(sp?), much fresher and less bitter tasting. Sesame products, whether oil tahini or roasted paste are something where I am very brand loyal when I find something I like because the flavor between brands varies a lot and the differences seem to come right through into the final dish.

                    1. re: qianning

                      Kadoya is the usual one I get, but the Evergreen brand really has that "whoa!" Taipei smell to me. Agreed sesame products sre tricky.